People across Canada and around the world observe Global Cervical Cancer Elimination Day of Action by wearing teal. Here's a photo of me on the south shore of Nova Scotia.
Today marks the Cervical Cancer Elimination Day of Action and the second anniversary of the launch of the global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem. While we are still in the midst of a pandemic, this date is an important reminder of what is possible when people across the world are mobilized to tackle a public health issue.
Launched in 2020, this initiative by the World Health Organization (WHO) was a landmark moment. Led by survivors and advocates, the United Nations resolution was passed by 194 countries, including Canada. It was a powerful statement: the entire world, for the first time ever, united in the goal to eliminate a cancer.
In response, Canada set its own goal: eliminate cervical cancer by 2040. This ambitious and achievable target drives the Action Plan for the Elimination of Cervical Cancer in Canada.
Canada has a long and well-established commitment to cervical cancer control – the first provincial cervical cancer screening program was launched in British Columbia in 1955. The uptake of Pap testing for cervical screening by healthcare providers and the expansion of screening programs resulted in cervical cancer incidence rates dropping significantly in the decades that followed (21.6 per 100,000 women in 1969 to 6.6 per 100,000 in 2016).
These are noteworthy achievements, but there is much work still to be done. Worldwide, cervical cancer remains the fourth most common type of cancer in women (604,000 new cases in 2020). Access to quality screening and treatment in Canada has meant that cervical cancer is not a leading cause of cancer death here, but still too many people are diagnosed (over 1,300) and lose their lives (over 400) to this preventable cancer each year.
Eliminating cervical cancer may sound like a daunting task, but we have a dedicated community behind the Action Plan and new tools to make this a reality. We now know that human papillomavirus (HPV) infections are responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer. HPV immunization is a key prevention tool, and HPV tests are superior to Pap tests for cervical screening. Furthermore, we know that school-based immunization programs, organized screening programs, and other outreach strategies can help improve equitable access to these important cervical cancer prevention tools.
The three key priorities of Canada’s Action Plan for the Elimination of Cervical Cancer underscore the focus and responsiveness required for this goal:
- Improve HPV immunization rates
- Implement HPV primary screening
- Improve follow-up of abnormal screening results
The Action Plan sets out key targets and timelines across these priorities and identifies key implementation partners. Importantly, it also has considerations to help ensure that the actions reflect priorities of First Nations, Inuit and Métis, and are centered on health equity. These are essential components in the pathway to eliminating cervical cancer in Canada.
Partners in public health and cancer programs across the country are working to advance existing programs and services to meet these goals. Tools such as the HPV vaccine access map – an interactive resource that provides information on who can get a free HPV vaccine, where they can get it, and how much it costs to purchase it privately – and our latest environmental scan of cervical screening programs across Canada, help provinces and territories learn from each other, and help others working in the system find current state of access to HPV immunization and cervical screening quickly and easily.
As steward of the Action Plan and the Canadian Strategy for Cancer Control, the Partnership is committed to helping partners in the system reach the elimination goal by boosting vaccine confidence and uptake so that more people benefit from being immunized for HPV; increasing access to culturally safe and trauma-informed cervical cancer prevention, treatment and care; and moving to HPV-based screening for cervical cancer to open up different ways of accessing screening such as self-sampling.
In combination, these changes are cost-effective, doable, and will save lives – and we all have a role to play to achieve these goals.
As I celebrate this important day, I reflect on how fortunate I feel as a parent that I was able to get my child immunized for HPV. This wasn’t available to me when I was young. Our understanding of the human papillomavirus in the last few decades has revolutionized our approach to eliminating cervical cancer.
We've made great progress over the past two years since the UN resolution, and I am confident that together we can eliminate cervical cancer in Canada by 2040.
Landmarks like the CN Tower in Toronto, Ontario, will be lit in teal to mark the global anniversary and day of action. Photo source: @TourCNTower
Erika Nicholson Vice President, Cancer Control
Eirka leads programs and initiatives that deliver on the priorities of the 2019-2029 Canadian Strategy for Cancer Control.